The Gannet Q&A

Caroline Hennessy

22nd July 2016

Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Ken Maguire

Caroline Hennessy is a food writer, broadcaster and author. Being one of the first Irish food bloggers, starting in early 2005, she set up the Irish Food Bloggers Association in 2010 with Kristin Jensen. She is devoted to exploring the intersecting worlds of Irish craft beer and fine Irish food and is the co-author, also with Kristin Jensen, of the recently published Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider. Caroline can regularly be found at events covering craft beer, Irish cider and everything else to do with good food.

1. If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

It wasn’t a meal so much as a taste, a flavour. I moved to New Zealand with my Kiwi boyfriend in 2004 and one day, while we were kayaking in the Abel Tasman, he scooped up a dark, spiky kina, a sea urchin. He broke it open and we ate it there, in the rocking kayak, me tasting the briny, creamy coral for the first time with hot January sunshine on my shoulders. I’ve rarely felt so much of a place – and simultaneously far from home. It was the start of an incredible NZ food journey that has shaped my life since.

A photo posted by Caroline Hennessy (@bibliocook) on

2. What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Ginger cake. Dark and sticky and made by my mum and always in the kitchen tin. Eating it made me feel like one of the Famous Five. Which one? George, of course!

3. What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

I can look at a handful of unpromising ingredients and turn them into something that tastes really good, really quickly. A talent that is, as yet, under-appreciated by the small mouths at my kitchen table.

4. What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

My four-year-old brought home some lettuce and strawberries that she had grown in preschool. We toasted pecans, fried cubes of halloumi and made a simple dressing for what became the Best Salad Ever, eaten in the garden on a summery, sunshiny Friday evening.

5. What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

If I have a few hours of uninterrupted cooking planned, it’s podcasts all the way. The BBC Food Programme is an essential listen, This American Life and The Moth make washing up time fly and I’ve just downloaded Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History on the recommendation of two different people. Feeding the family prep time also coincides with RTÉ Lyric FM’s Classic Drive, which doesn’t demand too much concentration and, so I tell myself, the chilled out classical music keeps the children from getting too hangry. Or maybe that’s just me?

6. What ingredient are you currently obsessed with?

Beer! I first tasted good beer in New Zealand; the Kiwi who came home with me went off and set up Eight Degrees Brewing in Mitchelstown, Co Cork with an Aussie friend. The result? Being married to, and working with, a brewer means that I get a chance to try lots different beers, pair them with food, and use them in my kitchen. So it’s pale ale in blondies, salted caramel sauce made with red ale, pilsner added to the lightest of scones and – my favourite – dark, malty stouts and porters in chocolate cakes and brownies. Current obsession: the recently released single hop Mandarina Bavaria IPA, a tangerine dream of a beer that I’m trying to translate into a citrus tart.

A photo posted by Eight Degrees Brewing (@eightdegreesbrewing) on

7. Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

I recently, after years of lusting after one, bought a Fingal Ferguson handmade chef’s knife. It’s Swedish steel, with a rosewood handle, is perfectly weighted to my hand and gives me joy each time I use it. I can’t believe that I waited so long.

8. What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

A few years ago, I traveled around Morocco with a copy of Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food in my backpack. I read it like a novel on trains from Casablanca, sitting in the window of my room in Essaouira and in the back of a bus going into the Atlas Mountains, while eating amalou and rghaïf, devouring tagines and letting my nose lead me to cumin-roasted chickpea sellers. Claudia’s mixture of culinary history, folklore and food captivated me on the road and her recipes ensure that it’s still a well-used staple in the kitchen.

9. Share a useful cooking tip.

Just cook. Good food should be a normal, everyday pleasure, not involving long lists of unattainable ingredients, special equipment or difficult-to-obtain skills. The more you cook from scratch, the more you make it so.

10. If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be and why?

For its mint tea and spices and tagines and pickled lemons – Morocco.

11. What food do you most dislike?

Until I was 30, it was potatoes. I have to say it was not easy growing up in Ireland during the 80s with a hatred of the mainstay of the Irish diet. Then, one night in New Zealand, in front of a whole cookery class, a chef handed me a forkful of potato-dense Spanish omelette to taste. I looked it it. I looked at him. He looked at me. I opened my mouth and tasted. It was nothing like the lumpy tear-soaked mashed potato of my childhood and I’ve been a full-on potato fan since that memorable mouthful.

12. What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

Sabrina, 1954, with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. “And now, mesdames et messieurs, soon we will see how you have learned the lesson of the soufflé. The soufflé, it must be…gay. Gay! Like two butterflies dancing the waltz in the summer breeze.” Irresistible. And all done with Sabrina in the classiest kitchen outfit ever.

13. Name a favourite restaurant in your neighbourhood.

Ballyvolane House is not far from where we live and I love the atmosphere that Justin and Jenny Green create there. It’s a real pleasure to sit at the big table in the dining room and get to know the other people around it, while being served – and serving yourself from the sharing plates – beautifully cooked local food that is consistently good. A treasure.

14. What most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant?

Carelessness. I care about what I eat; if I’m coming to your restaurant, I want you to care about it too.

15. What’s your biggest food extravagance?

I don’t count spending money on good food as an extravagance – I spend what I have!

16. Describe your average breakfast.

I love, love, love breakfast. First, a little porridge and a lot of fresh fruit with some crunchy nuts on top, followed by a slice of buttery toast and a good cup of coffee. All consumed with my nose stuck in a cookbook, planning the next meal.

Visit Caroline’s blog:

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Posted 22nd July 2016

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Ken Maguire

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